Looking back over mediations from this past year, I realize that listening was the deciding factor in escalation of conflicts. Or should I really say not listening. Describing listening and how it might apply to business situations really encompasses a variety of things.
Let’s first take an overview of contract disputes seen in mediation. The underlying problem across the board begins with parties understanding of the contact. So often, one party will take a couple of the highlights of the contract or agreement, most often something about costs, assure the other party they will be able to meet their needs and the other party signs. With few exceptions, disputes arise out of unmet expectations, regardless of what the contract/agreement says.
Signing a contract does not mean the other party can and will not dispute, sue or refuse to pay. Take for example the situation where mediation became very contentious over a contact for leasing a business space. The person contracted to negotiate the lease followed a process that was well established by their company and had the expectation it would take some time to complete. The business owner’s expectation, based on his understanding was the negotiator had a relationship with the building complex and negotiations would be held quickly. Had the person contracted to negotiate listened, he would have heard the expectation to complete the process quickly and had the business owner asked better questions, it could have alerted him to the possibility of a lengthy process.
Nothing adds fuel to the fire more than unreturned phone calls. Understand that frequent calls are also a message. Fear, uncertainty, lack of confidence are some of the emotions felt by customers and not listening or ignoring them just makes it worse.
Taking the extra time at the beginning of a contract negotiation or sale to outline what will happen and the timeframes can put you in a position to avoid conflict down the line. You may be an expert and know what it takes to complete your process successfully but when you assume your customer knows…well, we all know what that can mean.
Mediation makes sense when you want to end a problem but not a relationship. It is a cost effective, confidential and proven method to work through business conflicts.
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